Two days after tornadoes ravaged Middle Tennessee, killing 24 people and displacing hundreds, a new crisis touched down in the state.
On March 5, Gov. Bill Lee announced Tennessee’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. In the eight days since, things have … escalated. The World Health Organization has declared the viral disease a pandemic. Nearly 5,000 people have died worldwide, with confirmed cases showing up in more than 120 countries.
As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control report 1,678 coronavirus cases and 41 deaths in the U.S. There are currently 26 confirmed cases in Tennessee, including 10 in Nashville, but there’s no need to commit those numbers to memory. For one thing, the state is still testing such a small number of people that the actual number of cases in the state is certainly higher. Moreover, the number of confirmed cases may well change by the time I’m done writing this, much less by the time you’re done reading it.
To say this story is developing is an understatement. But for now, here’s an (almost) complete timeline of how Tennessee went from Case No. 1 to Cancel Everything.
Tennessee becomes the 18th state in the U.S. to confirm a case of the virus. The patient is a 44-year-old man from Williamson County said to be isolated in his home with mild symptoms. State officials said he had recently traveled domestically.
A day earlier, Lee had announced the formation of a task force of “develop and execute strong precautionary measures, resource allocation and emergency response plans should the need arise in Tennessee.”
The Tennessee Department of Health says it only has the capacity to run 85 tests for the virus.
Two more cases are confirmed, one in Shelby County and one in Nashville, bringing the state total to three. The Nashville case was an adult woman with no travel history, said to be isolated in her home with mild symptoms. Metro officials note she does not have children in the Metro Nashville Public Schools system.
Mayor John Cooper tells reporters he does not plan to cancel any large public events in the near future.
The state confirms a fourth case, saying only that the patient is a woman in Middle Tennessee. At the same time, signs appear on the AT&T tower in downtown Nashville, aka the Batman Building, indicating that cleaning is underway because an infected person had recently been inside.
Later, in a departure from protocol in other states, Tennessee officials announce they will not be identifying the specific counties where cases have been confirmed, but will instead say only if they are in East, Middle or West Tennessee. Officials do say cases in Metro areas, like Davidson County, will be identified. They cite patient confidentiality, but offer little in the way of a compelling rationale for restricting information about the spread of the virus.
The Nashville Post reports that customers of Ryman Hospitality Properties have in the past few weeks canceled events worth about $40 million to the company’s top line due to concerns about the virus.
Meanwhile, the state is under increasing pressure to reverse its position on the information it releases about the location of confirmed cases. That’s ultimately what they do.
The total number of confirmed cases in Tennessee stands at seven.
The World Health Organization declares the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. After 24 hours without announcing a new confirmed case, the state announces two more — one in Williamson County and one in Davidson County — bringing the state total to nine.
The state has received $10 million in federal funding for response efforts and is currently deciding how to put it to use. Gov. Bill Lee has not yet declared a state of emergency. At least 12 other states have done so.
Hours after the WHO’s declaration and days after organizers in other states had begun canceling larger gatherings — like Austin’s SXSW festival — Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation CEO Butch Spyridon says business-as-usual will continue for the city’s tourism industry.
Meanwhile, Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival is canceled, and the NCAA announces that men’s and women’s basketball tournaments will be held with virtually no fans in the stands. The Southeastern Conference, however — which is holding its championship basketball tournament at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena — announces that it will go ahead with its Wednesday night slate of games, with fans in attendance.
President Donald Trump addresses the nation from the Oval Office.
State health officials confirm nine new cases, bringing the state total to 18, and Gov. Bill Lee declares a state of emergency. Metro Nashville Public Schools announces that Nashville’s schools will be closed Thursday and Friday before next week’s spring break. The Tennessee Department of Correction suspends all non-legal visitation at the state’s prisons.
Nationally, with health officials stressing the importance of social distancing to “flatten the curve,” the Cancel Everything phase kicks into high gear. The NBA, NHL and MLS all suspend their seasons; college basketball conferences cancel their championship tournaments and the NCAA calls off March Madness.
Meanwhile, one floor above him, two dozen championship cheerleaders from a Williamson County middle school that was shuttered due to coronavirus concerns were crowding onto the floor of the Senate to be recognized. The chamber spent part of its floor session deciding whether to honor President Trump for his acquittal in the Senate’s impeachment trial last month. They approved the resolution overwhelmingly.
In the House, business was similarly nonessential. The body debated a bill that would make the Bible the official state book.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton downplayed the pandemic.
Mayor John Cooper announces the formation of a Metro Coronavirus Task Force chaired by Dr. Alex Jahangir of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Metro announces there are currently 10 confirmed cases in Davidson County, and officials express frustration about the lack of testing capacity. They have begun encouraging organizers to cancel or postpone large events.
Metro Public Defender Martesha Johnson is calling on criminal justice officials to take steps to “minimize the exposure of the vulnerable individuals housed in Nashville’s jails and prisons” including releasing defendants without bail. The Tennessee Supreme Court releases an order suspending all in-person court proceedings in the state until March 31.
At the state legislature, Rep Andy Holt announces that the annual Ag Day on the Hill, including the cow-milking contest, has been canceled.
The National Rifle Association calls off its annual convention, which brought 80,000 people to Nashville in 2015.
Trump declares a national emergency.